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To be sure, there remain big issues of infrastructure, remote-area access, data security and personal privacy, among others, to be addressed. But the combination of consumer demand and market-based innovation has consistently and successfully driven the mobile internet’s growth, generating enormous economic and social benefits. As we have argued before, for almost everyone on the planet today, regardless of where he or she lives and works, the mobile internet is already, or soon will be, a life-changing phenomenon.
The numbers tell one part of the story. There are currently almost 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally, or one for every person on Earth. In Western Europe, there are 530 million mobile subscriptions, or about 1.33 for every person, of which more than half are for smartphones. Research firm eMarketer expects that in 2017, seven of the top 10 countries for smartphone penetration will be in Europe (the U.S. will rank 11), and in three European nations (Norway, Denmark and Finland), smartphone penetration will exceed 90 percent.
Several factors are fueling this growth, including greater access, increasingly sophisticated mobile-device functionality, fast-rising device sales, an ever-increasing range of devices and device types, and sharply falling prices. Another factor is more reliable data connections that enable increasingly data-intensive activities. Some 60 percent of the world’s population is covered by 3G connectivity—the EU has 90 percent 3G coverage—and large swaths of territory are covered by 4G service.
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